RYAN VREDE believes New Zealand’s superior forwards will pave the way for their victory over Australia in Auckland.
The verbal handbags being slung between the two camps has been amusing, with the All Blacks claiming the Wallabies lack respect. How dare they disrespect the mighty Blacks? (Spit) Shame on them.
This Wallabies side has more reason to be confident of their chances of beating the All Blacks than they have in years. Their key players have matured, with the likes of Will Genia, Quade Cooper, Kurtley Beale, James O’Connor, Stephen Moore and David Pocock among the best in their positions in the game. Indeed I agree with Owen Finnegan that Pocock, on current form, is better than Richie McCaw, who hasn’t found his groove after an injury curtailed season.
Consider also that Graham Henry has been guilty of perplexing faithfulness to Piri Weepu, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Mils Muliaina and Ma’a Nonu in the face of superior alternatives. He’ll point to their performance against the Springboks (only Sivivatu didn’t play) a week ago as vindication for that enduring faith, but the weakened Boks were hardly a standard by which to measure any player.
Victory will be important in the context of the World Cup. These sides are widely tipped to contest the final, and the match 22s are unlikely to differ greatly from the ones named for Saturday’s Test.
The Wallabies can claim a psychological edge by defeating the All Blacks at Eden Park, which no side has managed for 17 years. But I don’t think they will. They’ll lose narrowly, but they certainly won’t be embarrassed.
The primary reason for this prediction is that the Wallabies’ pack just isn’t quite there in terms of physicality in general play or at scrum time. With regards to the former, the Blacks possess superior strike runners in the form of Kieran Read, Jerome Kaino, Ali Williams and Keven Mealamu.
The quartet are likely to breach the gainline consistently, diluting Pocock’s influence and ensuring their back division is consistently serviced with quick ball. Their threat in this regard will be sustained through 80 minutes thanks to a formidable bench.
Furthermore, the Blacks’ scrum has no match, and despite the Wallabies’ intense focus on this facet of play in the last fortnight, they’ll struggle to live with the host’ technical excellence and brutal power. They’ll fare better at lineout time, but considering the ball-in-hand approach both sides are expected to employ; there won’t be enough feeds for this to be a decisive facet of play.
If the Wallabies’ heavies play beyond themselves to assert some form of dominance up front, they have a chance of snapping the Blacks’ hot steak in Auckland. With a platform from which to operate Cooper and Genia have shown themselves to be masterful engineers. Sadly, if your allegiance is to the Wallabies, I don’t believe they will.
They’ll stay in contention for three quarters of the match, before the Blacks shift gears.
VREDE’S CALL: All Blacks by 10
All Blacks – 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Brad Thorn, 4 Ali Williams, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Sam Whitelock, 19 Adam Thomson, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Colin Slade, 22 Sonny Bill Williams.
Australia - 15. Kurtley Beale, 14. James O’Connor, 13. Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12. Pat McCabe, 11. Digby Ioane, 10. Quade Cooper, 9. Will Genia, 8. Ben McCalman, 7. David Pocock, 6. Rocky Elsom (c), 5. James Horwill, 4. Rob Simmons, 3. Ben Alexander, 2. Stephen Moore, 1. Sekope Kepu.
Subs: 16. Saia Faingaa, 17. Pekahou Cowan, 18. Dan Vickerman, 19. Scott Higginbotham, 20. Luke Burgess, 21. Anthony Faingaa, 22. Lachie Turner